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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Inquiry told of care 'deficiencies'
Victoria Climbie died after horrific abuse
The level of care provided for vulnerable children by the council at the centre of the Victoria Climbie tragedy was potentially unsafe, an inquiry has been told.

Ronald Ludgate, who was acting director of Brent social services at the time of the young girl's death, said that in April 1999 he became concerned because standards were slipping, due to staff cuts and severe under-spending.

Officials at Brent Council in north west London received a tip-off in June 1999 that Victoria was in danger, but the procedures they put in place failed to protect the eight-year-old.

It (social services department) did not provide the continuity of care that is required under the Children's Act for good standards of childcare

Ronald Ludgate, former Brent social services acting director
When Victoria died in February 2000, she had 128 separate injuries on her emaciated body after being kept bound and gagged in a bath and fed on scraps.

Mr Ludgate told the inquiry that when he became concerned at the falling standards, he had arranged a meeting with the council's business manager.

"I wanted to share with her that I was unsure whether or not Brent was still providing a safe service for children," he said.

"I did not think it was."

The inquiry has already been told that about 25m of government money earmarked for children's services in the borough was spent in other areas by the council between 1997 and 1999.

Mr Ludgate said on Thursday that a tight budget and staff reorganisation had left a department that was under "acute stress" and struggling to cope with the workload.

Staff shortages

Complex cases were not allocated to suitably qualified staff and there was inadequate training for locum social workers, he told the inquiry.

Highlighting the department's deficiencies, he said: "It did not provide the continuity of care that is required under the Children's Act for good standards of childcare and it did not provide stability for the child or the department."

Victoria and her great-aunt Kouao
Kouao systematically abused Victoria
Former director of social services Mike Boyle told the inquiry staffing levels had been affected by stress-related illness.

He said the service had begun to decline from 1996, and that by March 1999 "it was clear to me that this was a system that was deteriorating and deteriorating rapidly".

He said: "The problems in social services were there before I arrived.

"I was just unable to stop the problem year-on-year."

'No crisis'

Another member of the social services team revealed more details of the department's weaknesses.

Mary Cribbin, lead member for social services while Victoria Climbie was in Brent's care, told the inquiry social services had been under-resourced between 1997 and 2000.

Both Mr Boyle and Ms Cribbin denied claims that the department was in crisis.

They also denied claims that vulnerable children as young as 13 had been left alone to fend for themselves in bed and breakfast accommodation, as had been previously suggested during the inquiry.

Victoria's great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, 44, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, 28, were both jailed for life for Victoria's murder in January this year.

The hearing was adjourned until Friday.


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